Months after the November deadline for artists to sign up for this month's Bayou City Art Festival, its organizers changed the rules, expanding the pool of artists from 300 to 450, increasing booth fees and converting what had been the artists' close-in parking lot to more exhibition space.
The changes in the upcoming spring festival scheduled for March 28-30 at Memorial Park made a lot of artists uneasy, upset and in some cases outraged. When contacted by Art Attack, Susan Fowler, the interim executive director since November, told us that their small staff had received more than 2,400 emails in the last few days.
As the artists see it: more artists means more competition, no close-in parking means more schlepping materials in when inventory sells at the booths and an agreement is an agreement and shouldn't be changed months later. Especially since the original applicants paid money to have art experts assess their work in a juried system and that now is being bypassed with organizers just calling up artists they know of and inviting them to the show.
"When you have a fine arts show -- and Bayou is one of the better shows in the country -- there's an understanding that the artists are taking part in a jury process so they're collecting money and we are competing against say 1,000 or 2,000 people for 300 spots. If an artist gets into a show there's sort of a contractural agreement that we will abide by certain rules they ask us to sign and it's assumed when they present the proposal, the layout of the show and how many people are in the show and what the booth fees are going to be that those things are not something that's flexible," said one artist who has withdrawn in protest from this month's show.
Artists would have better accepted the expansion, he said, if it had been announced ahead of time for next fall, but not after so many had already committed to this spring show where the rules were suddenly changed.
But as Fowler and the Art Colony Association Board of Directors which oversees the festival see it, they couldn't wait any longer to take the action necessary to ensure the financial viability of the festival which has been steadily drawing down its reserve funds because of four outdoor festivals in a row with rain. The changes didn't happen sooner, she said, because a new board didn't take office until mid-January.
"The board of directors from Bayou City Art Festival made a conscious choice to grow the festival in order to secure the future. We had four festivals back to back that had rain. We had a rainy day fund that for us was a literal rainy day fund because we're an outdoor event," Fowler said.
In recent years the festival (which originated in Montrose and then moved to downtown) puts on a spring festival at Memorial Park and a fall festival downtown. And during last October's downtown festival, it rained both days. "It was torrential rain. So attendance was down because of the weather," Fowler said.
Some artists who were notified in December about whether they'd been accepted in the show, requested refunds of their booth fees, others were unable to change their plans after committing a certain amount of money to travel and shipping arrangements, one source who wished to remain anonymous told Art Attack. Booth fees ranging from $500 to $1,500 for the spring show were due in January and were supposedly non-refundable after February 17. According to Fowler, as of the end of last week, 24 artists had withdrawn and they were issuing refunds. However the $35 application fees were not being returned, a source said.
And one of the artists who withdrew from the show said he has not received his refund and is not at all sure he's going to get it within ten days as he was told. "If the history of their promises; they haven't fulfilled any timetable they've put in writing for the show, I don't see any reason to believe I'll get a refund check in ten days. They simply have not followed through on anything. They've missed every deadline."
It was the organization not hitting its usual marks that first drew the attention of artists. A series of emails passed on to Art Attack shows that artists began complaining that they weren't getting information from the festival group as to where they'd be placed, what other artists would be there or what hotel discounts were available. Rumors started circulating and were finally confirmed. After being informed of the changes, one artist wrote in an e-mail asking for a refund citing "the likely loss of income due to the expansion of the show."
Fowler said they had sent information out to the artists or talked to on the phone only to have them say they hadn't receive any information. And that the National Association of Independent Artists asked its members to contact Bayou City asking it not to change its show, even if those artists weren't in the show.
Still, she apologized to any artist who thought her organization hadn't been forthcoming soon enough with its communications.
"There's a little bit of stirring the pot. But for the most part we own it. We are very sorry if we failed to communicate our new strategy in a timely manner, we apologize. If we not responded to you, it's no excuse. We are trying to respond to you as quickly as possible. We're just owning it. We know they're upset. We hear them. We're really trying to get them the information that they need to make the good business decision about whether or not to come and be a part of the festival and we hope they will. "
According to an artist who contacted Art Attack, the Bayou City Art Festival prospectus used to read:
Twice a year, over 1000 qualified applicants from around the world submit their applications to be scrutinized by the Art Colony Association Jurors. Only 300 Artists will be selected to exhibit per festival, many of whom are featured in fine arts galleries and in prominent personal and museum collections around the world. The bi-annual festivals allow art collectors the opportunity to personally meet the artist, view original works, and purchase world class art. The experience that develops between a patron and the artist may last a lifetime.
On or about March 4, 2014 this was changed to:
Twice a year, over 1000 qualified applicants from around the world submit their applications to be scrutinized by the Art Colony Association Jurors. The top scoring juried artists will be selected to exhibit per festival, many of whom are featured in fine arts galleries and in prominent personal and museum collections around the world. The bi-annual festivals allow art collectors the opportunity to personally meet the artist, view original works, and purchase world class art. The experience that develops between a patron and the artist may last a lifetime.
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